The Vanishing Peasant: Innovation and Change in French Agricultureby Henri Mendras, Daniel Lerner, Jean Lerner
Originally published by Futuribles, the French Center for the Study of the Future, this translation of La Fin des Paysans is a fascinating and highly readable study of the effects of technological change on the structure, attitudes, and values of traditional French rural society. "[Mendras] can clearly draw on a lifelong fund of knowledge and understanding about French farmers.... Starting with basic attitudes to work, the land, the family and the farm, and going on to analyse the methods and the problems of innovation, he puts the pressure for change in perspective in relation to the farmer as entrepreneur and as a force on the national political scene. Particularly revealing is his picture of contrasting attitudes in the movements thrown up by successive generations of young farmers."—The Times Literary Supplement
What has happened to the farmers and what answers can the social sciences provide to the problems facing one or two billion peasants finding themselves on the threshold of industrialization throughout the world? Mendras' book is a fresh and important contribution to the literature on economic development, for in examining the plight of French agriculture it may be extended to include all nations, both highly modernized and developing. The French countryside, Mendras explains, serves as an experimental laboratory suitable for diverse analysis. The progressive development of his research over the past dozen years has recorded the vicissitudes of deep change: 160,000 peasants "vanish" each year, often because of the misapplication of analytical methods, legislative measures, and misguided administrative decisions on agriculture. Rather than build a theory of the peasantry, the book seeks to define the logic of the mechanisms within social structures, which may be used to conceive better structures for the future.
Combining acute observation and a rare understanding of rural culture, the book provides an example of western peasants who are in the process of making the transition to industrial civilization. It concludes with the Futuribles vision of a national system of agricultural "workshops," organized around towns of 10,000 inhabitants—an ambitious view derived from the observation that, when faced with the realities of structural change, the French farming community has proved able to adapt its attitudes despite its inherent conservatism and, hopefully, should evolve harmoniously into the twenty-first century.
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